Parents go to great lengths to get the certain toys for Christmas. If you had children in the 80s you may remember the Cabbage Patch kids dolls. In the 90s it was Tickle Me Elmo. If you had a daughter in the 2000s, maybe you remember the scramble to get a Bratz doll. Maybe you more recently searched the Dark Web for a ZhuZhu Pet so you could pay three times more than the retail price. Why were we so eager to buy our children a toy whose primary message seemed to be “Your parents are idiots”?
If we go way back, we must face one of the strangest toys of any Christmas past. I know our younger members won’t believe it, but children of the ’70s were clamoring for Pet Rocks. The pet box included breathing holes all around it, and inside you would find . . . a rock. That’s it.
So, what will it be this year? Millions of parents are desperately hoping that this year they’ll find the right toy. A toy that will both light up Christmas morning and not end up stuffed in the back of the closet three weeks from now. I don’t even want to think about all the gifts I’ve bought over the years that scarcely held my family’s interest for Christmas Day, much less for months or years to come. But we keep buying and keep hoping this time it will be different.
The first Christmas present was significantly different from that. We discover this story in Luke 2:8-18. This Christmas present was so different. It was JESUS!
The problem with toys and most things we look to for joy is a case of diminishing returns – the more we go back to that thing or think on that thing, the less joy it brings. Even if you had an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience, you can only hold onto it for so long. But the first Christmas gift is a different sort of gift altogether. The shepherds show us that encountering Jesus is a different sort of experience. This was a lasting joy that they could not contain.
There are about 250 passages in the Bible that deal with joy. If you read them, you’ll find the Bible doesn’t just encourage joy, it commands us to have it. In fact, the Bible commands us to rejoice twice as many times as it commands us to repent. We aren’t just given permission to laugh or to have some fun times; God wants your life to be constantly overflowing and filled with joy. Is that how you would describe your life?
The shepherds’ joy was a result of what God had done. Watching sheep at night has its merits. But the hope, wonder, and life-changing joy for them began when they first heard of Jesus. And the joy grew as they met Jesus. Joy begins for us in the same way it began for the shepherds. It begins with meeting Jesus. Without that foundation, how can we hope to have lasting joy? Very few things last forever. An encounter with Jesus, however, remains and grows through all eternity. Meeting Jesus never stops impacting, shaping, and transforming our lives! It never stops giving us hope and opportunities for joy.
Let’s zero in on a few basic themes that recur numerous times in those 250 passages on joy.
Embrace the Joy That Have Been Given
The apostle Paul clearly demonstrates this truth in Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again:.”One important part of walking in joy is simply to choose to rejoice in everything! Much of the joy in the Bible isn’t really connected with circumstances. It’s connected with a decision. In fact, one of the keys to a life of joy is to rejoice even when the circumstances are disappointing or even painful.
Embrace the Joy That Can’t Be Taken Away
Do you remember this famous passage from Romans 8:28? “And we know that all things work together for good…” “All things” is not some things. “All things” is not most things. “All things” is all things.
So, no matter what you go through, you can be absolutely certain that one of two things is happening. Either God sent it or God is going to use it. I think God sends things that aren’t quite what we ask for. I also think there are tragedies and pain that God doesn’t send. But if you love Him, you can be sure that He is using it somehow and someway for your good because He is mindful of you and watchful over you. In that, we can always have hope. We can always rejoice. And one of the eventual outflows of rejoicing is joy.
Embrace the Joy of Salvation
There’s another undeniable experience that is connected to joy that’s found throughout the Bible. It’s most clearly seen in Psalm 51 – the joy of salvation and forgiveness. This beautiful and powerful passage was written by David after he had had an affair with Bathsheba and arranged for her husband to be killed. In verses 3 and 4, David says, “My sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” I think the high point of this psalm is verse 12 where David prays, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.”
Notice that David brings his life back into alignment with God’s truth and God’s Word. Our sin almost certainly will bring temporary pleasure, momentary relief, maybe even a little happiness. But we all know that in the end, it will steal our joy.
But what did the angel announce to the shepherds? A Savior had been born. Jesus would die to save us from our sins. That is salvation.
Joy is stolen when we forget what Jesus’s arrival on earth means to our lives. Life can be hard, but we know the secret the shepherds held. The Savoir has come! In Him, we are saved.